School Spotlight: Cheshire Academy Shares Social Media Secrets

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When we first met Stacy Jagodowski, the Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications at Cheshire Academy, during our Advancement Academy, we knew we had to talk to this social media maven. Her deft, enthusiastic participation in our Twitter contest is an example every school administrator should follow when it comes to participation on social media.

So, in this month’s School Spotlight, you’ll learn how she and Cody Barbierri, the Assistant Director of Social Media Marketing, use their social media savvy to spread and share Cheshire Academy’s mission as a student-centered school that—in Stacy’s own words—exists to “meet students where they are, and take them beyond where they imagined possible.”

Cheshire Academy, a boarding and day private-independent school serving students and postgraduates from grades eight through twelve in Cheshire, Connecticut, boasts an impressive social media presence on nine (!) websites. (More are in the works, including an experimental account on Snapchat.) Looking back, however, Cheshire Academy’s online presence hasn’t always been the giant it is today.

Originally, the school only maintained profiles on Twitter and Facebook. However, as the team realized their audience enjoyed updates and information on other sites, the school’s profile number grew to include those new information arenas. That includes both “foundational” sites that folks stereotypically think of as social media giants, like Twitter and Facebook, as well as some up-and-coming sites like Instagram and Weibo.

We asked why Cheshire Academy focused on these other sites with younger demographics, rather than sticking to those used by older decision-makers. Cody and Stacy both said that the social media team considers one of its primary audiences to be the school’s students—past, present, and future—as part of Cheshire Academy’s extended mission to keep all programs and initiatives student-centered.

“Whether it’s information they need for their daily lives, like meeting announcements or fun activities, or spotlighting an amazing club charity that’s going on,” Cody told us, “we try to make our channels showcase the students in as many ways as possible.”

Part of showcasing Cheshire Academy students involves bringing the students themselves onto the team as content creators for the various school-related social media platforms. Much of Cheshire Academy’s Instagram page, for example, features posts by “communications interns”—current students working under the main marketing and social media directors. Each submission to the school page is tagged with the student’s name so he or she can receive both accolades and guidance from the main social media team.

Instagram sits at the center of many a student’s social media lifestyle, but it’s far from the only platform Cheshire Academy uses. Each site is used for specific reasons, as Cody explained:

“Our messaging is similar across all channels, but tweaked depending on the audience. If we know we are posting something to Instagram, it’s more for our current students, which means there will be less formal copy and plenty of emojis! If we’re posting to LinkedIn and even Facebook, we might take a more formal style because that’s mainly parents and alumni.”

It’s not just external social media sites that Cheshire Academy uses, either. They also take advantage of modern blogging strategies, as Stacy explained:

“Blogging gives us boosts [to our website’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO)] and allows us to provide services to different audiences. We don’t blog about our school directly; we blog about issues related to our target audiences instead, and work Cheshire Academy into the mix where appropriate.
"[For example,] the admission blog, The Boarding School Blog, is a general information blog related to admission practices with tips and tricks, how to's, and advice. We also operate The Social Media Teen blog, which has social media tips for both parents and students, as well as schools.”

By using Cheshire Academy’s blogs as platforms to provide useful information to the community at large—and not merely dishing up empty advertisements—the school establishes itself as a caring, knowledgeable entity with future and current families while simultaneously increasing its organic search rankings.

But all of these platforms require a dedicated team of curators and content-producers. Cody and Stacy are part of an overall team of five in the school’s marketing department, which allows for a wide range of school-produced original content. And again, the school’s students (as communication interns) serve as extensions of the core team, producing school-related content on Instagram, Tumblr, and even YouTube that continue to boost the school’s SEO and reputation.

All of Cheshire Academy’s online work assists with branding and reputation management. In fact, one of the best outcomes of the social media work has been a stronger school community. “People can now see what everyone else is doing and share in that,” Cody said.

The social media initiative also helps the school achieve more concrete goals, as well. The school’s website receives increased traffic to online query forms, applications, and donations—all directly attributable to the marketing team’s social media efforts. Recently, the team celebrated a successful giveaway campaign the Development and Alumni Relations Office ran this fall. The social media team promoted the giveaway on Facebook, and saw a dramatic spike in donations and participation.

Cody said that thanks to this and other instances of increased engagement, the social media campaigns have received very little pushback from faculty or administrators. “It’s hard to beat that kind of results and proof," he added.

But to get that kind of response to a social media campaign, a school must first build a rapport with its audience on its platforms of choice. For those schools looking to build or revamp their social media programs, the stars behind Cheshire Academy’s social media marketing strategy have a few recommendations.

From Cody:

"Our advice would be to start small and simple. Master one thing really well, and then think about expanding. We’ve seen tons of schools come up with these grandiose plans, and then they end up being too daunting to actually get off the ground. Start with a Twitter account, tweet news and updates, follow faculty and staff, and build slowly over time. Then, once you’ve got the hang of it, start to look at platforms like Facebook or Instagram.
"The one most important piece of advice we would give is, don’t start anything you can’t finish. Meaning, don’t start an Instagram if you know you’re going to run out of photos or videos; it’s going to look abandoned. Start small and build."

From Stacy:

"You also need to look at where your audience is. If you build a Tumblr account, but none of your target audience is active there, you’re not going to be successful, no matter how hard you try. Survey your audience and find out what networks they use regularly, and what networks they want to see your school actively using.
"Also, find out what information they want to see on each outlet. You may find that Facebook could be used for storytelling, but maybe Twitter is more for day-to-day reminders. Use that information to drive how you grow and build."

ISM will feature a new school each month to share stories of student, programmatic, and administrative success with nearly 30,000 private school administrators every month. If your school has a success story you'd like the world to hear, contact our Source editor!

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 9 School Spotlight: Valley Christian's "I Am a Warrior" Campaign
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 13 No. 2 Stories, Not Statistics: Lessons From the "I Am a Warrior" Campaign
The Source for Private School News Vol. 11 No. 5 Start Off the New School Year With a Killer Social Media Plan

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 35 No. 1 Faculty and Staff Use of Social Media Sample Policy
I&P Vol. 36 No. 5 Conducting a Communications Audit

Volume Number
Volume 14
Issue Number
7
Image of a teacher and students in class
Image of a teacher and students in class

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